You know that recent football slogan "If you want the NFL, go to the NFL"? As fans in attendance-starved markets know, it's not just a catchphrase, it's an order. The NFL's blackout rules mandate that non-sellouts must result in blackouts in local markets.
Teams can ask for 24-hour extensions to sell more tickets and avoid blackouts. However, nine teams have had blackouts since 2009. In 2013, the Chargers and Bills saw home games blacked out because of lack of attendance.
The NFL and the Players' Association believe that blackouts help preserve the integrity of the NFL product and encourage local fandom; critics contend that the blackouts are an unnecessary burden to place on fans who can't always get to games. The blackouts also a unifying issue for both the NFL and the NFL Players' Association.
As reported by Sports Business Journal, both the entities, along with the AFL-CIO, have expressed support for the blackout provision. The NFL can black out the game on local broadcast channels, and the FCC supports this by blocking the game on cable and satellite channels.
The unified support comes as the FCC is currently reviewing whether to continue its support of the blackout rule, which was first enacted in 1975. And according to consumer watchdogs, this is one of the few issues on which the bipartisan FCC (three Democrats, two Republicans) votes unanimously.
In August, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai told a Buffalo audience that "The time has come for the FCC to repeal its sports blackout rule."
The reason, Pai said, is a matter of whom the FCC should support. "I don't believe the government should intervene in the marketplace and help sports leagues enforce their blackout policies," he said. "Our job is to serve the public interest, not the private interests of team owners."
The FCC's removal of support would not completely end the blackout rule; local television stations still could not carry the games at the NFL's discretion. But it would be a significant step toward dismantling the rule.